Revenge of the Girl Cooties or Do we need a different writers organisation?

Warning! Knowing what happened to other women who dared to have opinions, be warned that trollish comments will either be deleted with extreme prejudice or held up for ridicule.

In the past few days, the ongoing discussion about women in SFF has heated up considerably. Most of this is due to some highly problematic columns and articles in the SFWA member magazine Bulletin. I’m not going to comment on the articles themselves, since I’m not an SFWA member and thus haven’t seen the magazine, which is print only (in 2013? Honest?). Besides, the issue seems to be with various articles, including one about the bikini bodies of female editors (Do I get to say that Nathan Bransford and Neil Gaiman are cute, too?) and one about Barbie of all things (liked her, played with her, collected her and designed outfits for her, but I never wanted to be her nor can I quite see what she has to do with SF). The widely reproduced Red Sonja cover image doesn’t bother me that much, but then as a long time comic and SFF reader I am desensitized to unrealistic covers. And I’m shameless enough to flaunt even really out there covers in public – hey, I read pulp mags with damsel in distress covers at university and gave everyone an earful who dared to call me out on it. And BTW, the same people who hated the sight of my superhero comics at university (without ever having read any of them) are now begging me to let them borrow those very same comics, because they never realised how good comics could be.

However, Jim Hines has got a comprehensive round-up of posts and reactions here. If like me you don’t get the actual magazine, Natalie of Radish Reviews has posted some quotes and scans of the most problematic column and it’s not pretty. Sorry, but people saying “This is kind of sexist” is not censorship, sorry.

Foz Meadows responds in detail to some of the quotes from the actual article and also makes a remark that very much matches my attitude to any sort of uproar involving the SFWA, namely that while she likes the idea of the SFWA, it’s hard to drum up interest in the internal issues of an organisation that only writers who have been trad-published by a number of approved publishers in the US. Indeed, Lavie Tidhar very much echoes my thoughts about how welcoming writers organisations (and the SFWA isn’t the only one) who have “America” in their name feel to those of us who are not Americans. Meanwhile, fantasy writer Angela Highland a.k.a. Angela Korra’ti wonders whether she even wants to join an organisation like the SFWA, even if they wanted her. And Jeanienne Frost, writer of the great Cat and Bones urban fantasy series, is theoretically able to join, but has decided not to, because of the repeated sexism issues with the SFWA. There are also reports of writers leaving SFWA over this.

I also don’t want to spare you this post by Lou Antonelli who thinks it’s all just the fault of those damn Socialists (!) who have taken over the US and the SFWA. Yes, it’s another swipe at the straw socialists who run SF. Never mind that the only place where the US is a socialist country is a parallel universe. Honestly, folks, political terms like “Nazi”, “Fascist”, “Communist”, “Socialist” or “Liberal” have defined meanings. You can’t just use them as a blanket insult for people you disagree with.

Political pundit Vox Dax a.k.a. fantasy writer and wannabe SFWA president Theodore Beale also weighs in and declares that women ruin everything. I’m probably going to regret linking to this piece, but he uses phrases like “scalzied manboobs”, so how could I not? He also expresses his issues with “romance novels in space, necrobestiality, and rehashed Regency romances”, none of which are SF in his opinion. Okay, but then neither are Mr. Beale’s religiously based fantasy novels and you know what? That’s okay. Not everything has to be hard SF.

The other current spark for discussion is of course Stuart Sharp’s “Help, romance writers are polluting SF” post that I linked to in my last “girl cooties” post. Now Jane Litte has a summary of both the SFWA and SF romance debate at Dear Author with a bonus picture of the late lamented Ned Stark (who since this week is not the only late person lamented on Game of Thrones anymore.)

K.S. Augustin offers this great rebuttal and asks why we care what “gentleman writer Stuart Sharp” has to say. It’s a harsh post, but then Stuart Sharp – pardon me, gentleman writer Stuart Sharp – did have it coming.

Here is a great quote:

The truth of the matter is, the Reader will make a decision, regardless of what people like Stuart (or I) think. Seriously, if A Gentleman Writer’s opinion meant jack shit, “Fifty Shades of Grey” wouldn’t be the runaway success that it is. I wonder if that’s really gentleman writer Stuart’s beef? Maybe he can’t write a believable sex scene worth shit, so now he’s trying to be superior about a whole genre that has (* shock * horror*) intimacy in it? It’s hilarious in a way. SF as a genre has been maligned for decades, with SF writers earnestly petitioning for “legitimacy”. And what’s the thing the gentlemen SF writers do when the genre isn’t considered as full-of-dung as it used to be? They go pick on teh wimmin. Have you ever come across such headdesk idiocy in your life?

Can I tell you something else? I’m sick of answering people like Stuart in a “reasonable manner”. They’re not reasonable, so why should I be? In fact, I’m wondering whether this is all a huge publicity stunt on his part, a way of drumming up some kind of attention, much like the naughty kid in a primary-school class showing his bare bum to the girl sitting next to him.

At SciFi Magpie, Michelle Brown wonders why a genre that considers itself as so generally forward thinking as SF and at least tries to be inclusive still has such issues with romance and whether the SFF community’s distrust of romantic plots is a symptom of the community’s continued rejection and marginalization of women.

Meanwhile, Stuart Sharp himself has written a follow-up attempting to clarify his position and stating that his original post was not intended to be misogynist and that he has actually written a lot of romance and SF romance (albeit as a ghostwriter, so we don’t know what precisely he wrote). It’s good of him to clarify his position, but it doesn’t really excuse the poorly formulated original post. Never mind that every woman who writes speculative fiction and dares to include some romance and/or sex as well as everybody who writes romance period has heard these arguments before, including the “But I like women. Some of my best friends are women” retractions. Just take a look at the current SFWA controversy to see why some women might be a tad upset.

For example – and yes, that post is connected to the SFWA controversy, but it’s also so much more – take this post by Ann Aguirre, author of the great Siratha Jax SF series and Corinne Salomon urban fantasy series, about the blatant misogynism she experienced in the SFF community and how she was not taken seriously, because her debut novel Grimspace had a woman on the cover and a female protagonist. Coincidentally, the (really great) cover of Grimspace is one of those that Stuart Sharp singled out in his original post.

Here’s a quote:

And now, here’s the second thing: I’ve been made aware of a post (that I’m not linking to) from a guy who is swinging at me again. Why? Because I’m getting my girl cooties all over his SF. He implies I’m incapable of grasping sophisticated SF references due to my gender–that I don’t actually write SF because it has women, sex, and feelings in it. I’m so tired and disheartened right now. The one bright spot was my experience at KeyCon in Canada, where I was not only made to feel welcome but valued. Not a single soul at the con questioned my credentials or my quality of fiction, due to what I don’t have in my pants.

But I’m still here. I’m still writing. You cannot shut me up. I will NOT SIT DOWN. I will not stand quietly by anymore. I am a woman. I write SF. And it’s not acceptable to treat me as anything less than an equal. I won’t stand for it. And I won’t get your fucking coffee.

Ann Aguirre also shares some stunningly ugly and sexist hatemail she got in response to her post. Or at any rate, it would be shocking to anyone who hasn’t hung around the internet for a while and made the mistake of reading the comments to any newspaper article about women ever. And apparently, Ann Aguirre wasn’t the only woman who spoke out about the SFWA issue who received hate mail. Silvia Moreno-Garcia collects other examples here.

On a related note, here are two great posts by Karina Cooper who wrote a very good steampunk novel as well as some urban fantasy I haven’t read yet. At her blog (which sadly I haven’t read until today), she comments both on the current SFWA controversy (with a really big image of the Red Sonja cover) and also wrote a great post about crossgenre fiction and why it’s a great thing earlier.

Here are some quotes, first from the SFWA post, with reference to a great recent post by Kameron Hurley about fighting women and stereotypes that I’ve linked to before:

I write strong characters—and by that, I mean people who are often obstinate, prideful, or fixated to the point of stupidity. While it’s true that some characters do make choices based on the mold society made of them, it is equally true that not all of them will do so—and that’s where I catch myself. One or two lapses into the virgin, et al, tropes can be easily explained as part of the mental process that shapes all of us as flawed human beings.

It’s when all of them start sprouting scales that I have to take a step back and really look at my choices.

How can I be a llama, sporting neither scales nor baby-chomping incisors, with no real urges to throw myself over a cliff to speak of, and still see llamas as scaly baby-eaterslooking for a tall cliff? It makes no sense. I am the visible proof of my own misconceptions, and yet, I gravitate to what I have been told, rather than what I know from experience.

Am I crazy?

I completely agree with this, because I also constant find myself questioning every choice my female characters make and wondering whether anybody will mistake one female character’s choice to get married, have children, live a domestic life in the place her male partner calls home as a blanket prescription for all women everywhere to do the same.

And here is another Karina Cooper quote, this one from the post on crossgenre fiction:

Why would you draw battle lines around a genre—detail it as primarily X and Y with some Z preferable if within pi constraints—if it means that you’ll be missing out on some seriously good bodies of work? Why would you limit yourself to one thing, and one thing only, when there’s a whole world of good work out there, each skating across genre lines like some kind of hopped-up venn diagram of awesome?

Every one of these books straddles genre lines in some way, and while the authors themselves may place their books squarely in one genre or another, they are widely read by faithful followers of a different genre entirely—and those people (and maybe even some authors, though maybe not the authors below) will use very angry, very defensive words to explain how the book is not at all part of that other genre at all, and how dare we make such a suggestion? (Or, conversely, of course it’s multiple genre and that’s what we like about it! Or, pfft, this isn’t my genre at all, it has kissy-face in it which makes it totally, ugh, romance…)
And frankly, if someone is so angry with their chosen genres that they feel the need to lock it down, abuse the people in that genre with them, abuse the people in the genres outside of theirs, then there’s a fundamental flaw with where that someone is choosing to stay.

At The Galaxy Express, Heather Massey responds to Stuart Sharp’s original article about the supposed inadequacy of SF romance and argues that articles like Sharp’s are actually a good thing, because it means that the wider SFF community is finally becoming aware of hybrid genres like SF romance or paranormal romance, instead of pretending those books don’t exist.

She also says, in reference to this very good post by Kameron Hurley about the whole SFWA fiasco:

You see, Mr. Sharp, “growing their own audiences” is precisely what happened with science fiction romance. It started way back in the 60s with STAR TREK fan fiction and continues today with a whole new batch of passionate, hardworking authors–all of whom, incidentally, are doing it right. Even if an author wants to write an SFR despite not having read any science fiction, power to him or her.
Fans of SFR don’t need anyone’s approval to enjoy it or write it. We already formed our own audience, our own club–a club everyone is welcome to join.

Indeed, this reminds me of a proposal I read a couple of years ago for forming a new writing organisation for all sorts of niche and crossgenre writers not well served by existing organisations like the SFWA, HWA or RWA (which was not very welcoming to digitally published writers, GLBT writers and erotica writers at the time).

And I found it, on the website of Juno Books, which started out as a small press dedicated to publishing some really good and different fantasy with female protagonists (I still have a lot of early Juno Books in my collection), then was acquired by Pocket Books and turned into a bog-standard urban fantasy imprint.

Anyway, here is former Juno editor Paula Guran calling for a new writers’ organisation for all of those writers whose work falls outside traditional genre boundaries:

There are a sizeable number of you. Writers who write… well, what do we call it? Romantic fantasy for now… you are published by large presses and small. Maybe you write erotica, or gay romance, or urban fantasy, or romance without an HEA, or YA romance or… hey, define yourselves, you know who you are.

There’s nothing out there that really recognizes your work or promotes it or provides the sort of networking that really helps.

Some of you are the sort of veteran authors who could really provide some guidance for newbies. Some of you are riding the cusp of emerging genres or creating new ones or writing stories that cross so many genres it is hard to call it by a known name.
RISE UP! Find your sisters and brethern and start your own organization. All it takes are enough people willing to work their butts off to make it happen. They need to have the brains to try to get along and set some goals and understand that compromises need to be made sometimes. Once the ideas of what you want this group to be/do are established, writing by-laws and rules and thet stuff is easy.

That post is dated July 2007, but the points are still as pertinent today as they were six years ago. Indeed, I found myself nodding along as I read the post. So maybe the time has finally come.

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54 Responses to Revenge of the Girl Cooties or Do we need a different writers organisation?

  1. Natalie L. says:

    Fantastic roundup. I can’t believe you brought yourself to link to V– D–; I can’t bring myself to look at anything he writes for more than about 5 seconds before I have to go get some brain bleach.

    Tiny quibble: There’s no H in my first name. It must have snuck in from my last name, which has a sneaky H in the middle of it that no one expects.

    • Cora says:

      Sorry about the redundant “h”. It’s been edited.

      As for VD, he already called me and Mur Lafferty immoral for daring to dislike the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. And how could I resist the “scalzied manboobs”? Besides, I luckily have the privilege of being on a whole different continent from any trolls his blog might sent my way, so there’s no real danger of any of them making true on the sort of threats that women who dare to speak up online often get.

  2. M T McGuire says:

    That’s a really good, balanced round up. What made me laugh is that it sounds as if they see sci-fi as this kind of man only thing which is all about being tough and unemotional and manly. It’s not fricking D.I.Y. it’s literature. I’m an offender, I’ve written some spec-fic with a snog in it (Pnark!) and I’m a bird. That’ll get me into trouble.

    Then again, I’m in the UK and luckily, though we do have plenty of bigoted people, we normally get less polarised in these things by keeping it light. CF a group last week who got excited about Muslems. They went to storm a mosque somewhere in Manchester, I think it was. There were some Muslims inside and so when they saw the lynch mob at their gates, they went out and invited them in for a cup of tea. So of course, in they went. After tea and biscuits they all played football together and everyone went home having had a jolly good time.

    If only this situation could be sorted out like that.



    Cracking stuff, I’ll be reading some of your links.



    • Cora says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post, M.T. Love the story about the Muslims in Manchester who invited the anti-immigrant protester in for tea BTW.

      And yes, I’ve never understood this whole “SF is for men and totally unemotional” thing either. First of all, there have always been plenty of female SF readers and writers. Secondly, contrary to popular belief, men have emotion, too. And thirdly, even DIY is no longer men only, plenty of women do it, too. Though going to the DIY store to buy a lightbulb and then spending half an hour looking at things we don’t need right now or ever is a typically male thing. 😉

    • Just for the record, and so that I can give links, it was in York:

      A mosque has been praised for serving tea and biscuits to English Defence League supporters after the far-right group arranged a demonstration there.

      About six people turned up to protest at the mosque in Bull Lane, York, on Sunday and were invited inside to play football with worshippers.

      More than 100 supporters of the mosque had gone there after learning of the planned EDL protest.

      Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said the mosque’s response was “fantastic”.

      He said: “Tea, biscuits, and football are a great and typically Yorkshire combination when it comes to disarming hostile and extremist views.” (BBC)

      One of the people from the mosque later explained that:

      We realised that we did not fully understand the EDL stance in York and, from what we could make out, that they did not fully understand us either.

      It was up to us to provide an atmosphere that was representative of our culture. When I say “our culture”, I mean all of us, including the EDL and the members of the mosque. We all think of sitting down with a cup of tea as something quintessentially English, so we thought that offering a cup of good old-fashioned Yorkshire tea and hospitality would be a start. And I remembered a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “If the world’s problems were brought to the Prophet Muhammad, he would solve them over a cup of tea.” Tea was something unexpected and welcoming. (Guardian)

  3. Pingback: Jim C. Hines » Roundup of Some “Anonymous Protesters” (#SFWA Bulletin Links)

  4. Daniela says:

    I spend parts of yesterday reading my way through some of the blog-posts. I think my brain is still stuck on the “liberal fascists” or “feminist fascists”. Maybe the US or at least parts of the US population have a very different definition of fascism than the rest of world? One that hasn’t even made it into historical scientific literature? (I’m currently reading Richard Evans books about the rise and fall of the Third Reich and he doesn’t mention any other definition than the one I’m familiar with.)

    Aside from that it sometimes felt as if we’re back in the 80s or 90s and not in 2013. Hello, 21st century calling?

    Never mind that the only place where the US is a socialist country is a parallel universe.

    *Nod* Sometimes I’m tempted to gift-wrap LaFontaine, Gysi, Sahra Wagenknecht, or even Ströbele and send them over to the US so that they get an idea what a ‘real’ socialist sounds like.
    Although in one thing the US is very much like a socialistic country: Travelling to the US is now a worse bureaucratic nightmare than travelling to the GDR ever was, including the scrutiny and surveillance.

    VD= Wenn Dummheit weh täte… but the “scalzied manboobs” are good. I’m also can’t help sniggering every time I read the whole alpha, beta, gamma, upsilon males-thing. Really, these ‘alpha-males’ should run around with a huge A on their forehead just so that everyone knows what they are.

    The SFWA was never much on my radar aside from the awards, because it said …Writers of America and since I’m not American… but I really like the idea of an internationally active organization. I was constantly nodding while reading the article by Lavie Tidhar. While I know a number of German SFF writers they are all focused solely on the German market and not so much on the international market, so that I sometimes feel a bit out of place among them. Even more so because I write cross-genres: Vampire-romance in space, paranormal historicals not located in Victorian London, romances without HEA, or gay/lesbian Sword&Sorcery.

    Brilliant round-up. I know have a few more blog-posts to read and to add a few more blogs to my reading lists. The whole thing had one other ‘positive’ side-effects: I found a few more writers (female!) whose books I want to check out. 😀

    • Cora says:

      Political terminology is seriously skewed among parts of the US population. And whenever I hear something like “feminist fascists”, I imagine some kind of NS-Frauenverband leader or maybe Magda Goebbels. “Liberal fascists” sounds like the sort of paradox that results in an antimatter explosion. And yes, I’m also tempted to ship Oscar LaFontaine or Sahra Wagenknecht to the US, so they can see what actual Socialists sound like. On the other hand, that would probably cause an antimatter explosion that destroys the universe.

      I also agree that travelling to the US has become as much as a hassle as travelling to the GDR used to be, only that on average I’ve encountered more polite GDR immigrations officers than US immigration officers (on average – individually, there were nice people and arseholes at both borders). And I’m a white woman from a visa waiver country who has a permanent residency visa for the US from way back. I don’t want to know how someone less privileged would be treated.

      As for the alpha, beta, gamma, etc… thing, that never really made sense when talking about humans rather than wolfpacks anyway (and certainly never made any sense outside werewolf romances). Though the VDs of the world (totally agree with your German language assessment of that particular gentleman BTW) probably believe that you’ll simply recognize an alpha male by looking at him. Of course, the ones who most bang on about alpha males rarely are alpha in any way. Never mind that the “beta male” was originally the second in command to the alpha and not a synonym for “loser”. I guess it’s as with the political terms. For some people, words mean what they want them to mean.

      For German writers writing in English it’s difficult anyway, since most fellow writers are either focussed on the German market and those who write in English are mostly poets or literary writers (I know a lot of poets who write in English, oddly enough). And other writers who write in English, though their mothertongue is something else, are in a similar situation. As for the SFWA (or MWA or HWA or RWA), I wonder why they didn’t at least change the name to get rid of the exclusionary “America” in the name, especially since they have several non-US members by now. Why not just call it Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association, so they even get to keep their acronym.

      Anyway, I’m glad to have pointed you to plenty of new (female) writers to read.

      • Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

        Couple of quick little details:

        It’s properly SFWA, not the SFWA. Damon Knight was very specific about that when he founded the organization back in 1965 — there’s no “the.”

        HWA did change its name, back in 1994; it’s now the Horror Writers Association, not “of America,” and it does have a “the.”

        The question of changing the name came up during the time I was a member of SFWA, and the general feeling was that SFWA’s specialty is dealing with publishing SF in America — it’s the publishers who are in America; the writers can be from anywhere. Trying to cope with the whole world is more than the organization can hope to handle.

        There is an organization, or was, called World SF, that existed to promote communication among SF writers and fans across borders. I don’t know whether it still exists. Frederik Pohl was one of the founders.

        • Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

          (Why is the software here interpreting italics as including line breaks?)

          • Cora says:

            Did you cut and paste from Word? Cause that sometimes causes the “italics equals linebreaks” error. And it’s a WP error, not mine, due to whether you use “em” or “i” as a tag for italics. For some reason, WP doesn’t like the more common “i”.

          • Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

            I typed it here. I did use “i,” because it’s on the list of acceptable tags, so I suppose that’s the problem. I’ll know better next time.

            (I use WordPress on my own blog, and it never did that there, so far as I know.)

            • Cora says:

              I’m not sure why it does that either – probably something in my particular configuration. Anyway, I have edited your comment, so the italics show up, but the line-breaks don’t.

        • Daniela says:

          But it’s not really America, isn’t it? Writers published in Canada or Chile or Brazil wouldn’t be eligible even though all of these countries are on the American-continent.

          So, theoretically it should SFWUSA, shouldn’t it?

        • Cora says:

          Thanks for the information, Lawrence.

      • Daniela says:

        Heh, even the NS-Frauenverband-leader (blanking on her name right now) or Martha Goebbels don’t really qualify as feminist. The only two who would qualify that come to mind are Catrin Göring and Leni Riefenstahl, maybe also Winifred Wagner. And the latter two were only accepted as long as they were useful and after that isolated and cast aside.

        Just trying to imagine Sahra Wagenkenecht in the US is hilarious. The rection probably would be: ‘Oh, she’s pretty’ and then she starts talking and BOOOOOMMMMMM.

        Everey time I hit US-immigration I feel like a criminal (and I’m white and from a visa-waiver state too). Even trying to be polite and friendly results only in grumpy grunts. Maybe they have some rule that forbids smiling? Which is weird as most Americans I’ve met are very open and friendly, especially when you smile at them.
        My father used to joke around with some of the GDR border control officers and since we lived in West-Berlin we used the transit-autobahn several times a year.

        Some scientiest actually say the whole alpha-thing doesn’t even work for wolf-packs who are usually just family units. And werwolf romances always make me want to write a feminist werwolve who states that she might be a wolf, but she’s also a human being able to reason and to stand above instincts so screw the whole alpha/beta/omega-thing. And if the male wolf wants something from her he should put in the work and not just stand there and claim her as his mate. That actually is one of the things I liked about Teen Wolf (cheesy US show), the Alpha of the pack isn’t determined by gender.

        The weird thing with the RWA is that they actually have non-US chapters (mostly Canadian) and even an internationl Chapter website ( ), so they are aware that their members aren’t solely in the US.
        But I can imagine that trying to be inclusive and international is easier said than done. I’ve seen it happen a lot in fandom which is very international and yet most non-US-fans often stay out of debates because they feel excluded and dismissed or the topics are too narrowly US-defined.

        • Cora says:

          Yeah, Magda Goebbels and the NS Frauenverband leader wouldn’t qualify as feminist either, neither would Eva Braun. Winifred Wagner probably would (though she was saddled with an incompetent husband who died early), ditto for Leni Riefenstahl, though film making was actually less male dominated in the late 1920s/early 1930s when Riefenstahl started out.

          Now I just try to imagine some rather conservative US man calling Sahra Wagenknecht “lady politician who looks good in a swimsuit” and watch the sparks flying.

          I’ve never understood why US immigration officers are so unfriendly either. Perhaps it’s due to power issues, considering that they are often minorities and supposedly from working class backgrounds. One of them almost brought me to the edge of tears as a teenager traveling alone to visit relatives in the US and that was long before 2001.

          I think that some romance writers just used paranormal romance in general and werewolf romances as a convenient excuse to write the ultr macho alpha heroes that are so popular with certain readers. Of course, nowadays writers like Kristen Ashley just get rid of the werewolves and write fully human heroes who just behave like every cliché of every alpha werewolf either.

          Totally agree with you on the (probably unconscious) US-focus of many fandom debates.

          • Daniela says:

            😀 We really should send Sahra Wagenknecht to the US and stock up on (sweet) popcorn for the show. I want to see her go against those extreme right-wingers. Either her or Gysi. Gysi is the better speaker but probably too intellectual for them.

            Well all of the immigration officers I had to deal with were white. Only the TSA-people were minorities. It was really jarring when I was in NY. In Frankfurt I was joking around with the people who checked my passport and then later with the ones who went through my carry-on lagguage and got friendly answers to my questions. In NY the guy just grunted at me. In the line next to mine a woman was also close to tears because her English wasn’t the best and her travel-companion was not allowed to step up and help out.

            Agreed on similar experiences before 2001. Same here. Power issues might very well play into that.

            I’ve never read Kristen Ashley and considering the issues I already have with Nalini Singh and her alpha asshole heroes I probably should stay far away from her. Those books just aren’t for me. I prefer my heroines to be women in their own right and to not depend on the males in their lives, even when they are sexually submissive. Cherise Sinclair manages to write strong, independent, sexually submissive women.

            • Cora says:

              Sahra Wagenknecht versus the more extreme US rightwingers would surely be popcorn worthy. Or how about Sahra Wagenknecht and Gregor Gysi witzh Gysi taking on the more eloquent of the bunch?

              For some reason, most of my US immigration experiences were at Atlanta airport and it’s really noticeable there, cause the TSA and immigration people are almost all minorities, mostly black women. Once while I was waiting in line there, a white supervisor showed up and yelled at the (mostly black) immigration officers to work faster. They got a lot more unpleasant afterwards and took their frustrations out on the waiting passengers. I don’t even blame them – that supervisor really was a jerk – but that’s hardly the fault of the people waiting patiently in line.

              Interestingly, US air travelers abroad tend to be really bad about ignoring clear instructions, so maybe that’s why US immigration and security personnel are so snappy. I often fly via Amsterdam and the morning flights out of Bremen either coincide with a flight from Seattle or a flight from Tokyo, so you’ll find yourself waiting in the security and passport control line (if you’re leaving the Schengen area) with either a lot of Americans or a lot of Japanese. The Japanese fulfil every cliché – they’re polite, wait in line, are not pushy, wait in the correct line, even if the signs are only in English and Dutch, etc… Meanwhile, a lot of the American passengers don’t seem to get that “EU passports only” means just that and that the US is not a member of the EU. Some of them refuse to understand that they can’t just get in the priority lane, unless they have a good reason to be there. And if they have reason to be in the priority line, they slow down the process by arguing about putting their laptop through the scanner (because they never make you do that in the US – sigh), etc… And every sign in the airport is in English, so they don’t even have the excuse of “I don’t understand the signs” either. Now the Dutch border and security personnel are almost unfailingly friendly, though I could understand if they were to snap when dealing with obstinate people. And sadly, a lot – though not all – obstinate people are Americans.

              I can just about tolerate Nalini Singh, though I gritted my teeth through the three books of hers that I read for research purposes. As for Kristen Ashley, an excerpt from her biker romance on one of the big romance sites was enough to tell me that this author is not for me. Too bad, because I wouldn’t mind a good biker romance (I know a lot of bikers in real life), provided the biker dude wasn’t an alpha arsehole.

  5. Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

    Technical detail: SFWA does sell the Bulletin to non-members. It even has (had? I haven’t checked for years) newsstand sales. Though I wouldn’t recommend buying it; it’s never been a very impressive mag.

    Beyond that: Yeah, SFWA has some loud-mouthed morons in it. Most of the members and officers and volunteers are not among them.

    Which does not mean I advocate… well, much of anything. I quit SFWA in 2006 and don’t regret leaving at all. I just don’t want to see the entire organization get clobbered for the idiocy of a small fraction of the membership, and the failure of the overworked and unpaid officers to adequately oversee the Bulletin, which is a semi-autonomous fiefdom within the organization.

    • Cora says:

      I didn’t mean to say that the SFWA officers and volunteers deserve to get clobbered for this, especially since John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal and others have generally done good work. It’s unfortunate that John Scalzi got hit with this at the end of an otherwise good presidency.

      And while it’s certainly interesting that the SFWA Bulletin even has newsstand sales (maybe that’s the reason for the Red Sonja cover?), print only mags are still pretty much inaccessible for overseas readers like myself, since they are either not available at all (I’ve never even seen Asimov’s or Analog here in Germany, let alone any other SFF mag) or only for horrendously high import prices. An issue of The New Yorker costs me 12 Euros at the airport, SFX (which is available here) coszs about the same.

      • Daniela says:

        Our (now closed) Fantasy shop occassionally had issues of Locus-magazine available, but I don’t think they ever carried Asimov’s or Analog. But then they also didn’t offer the few German magazines that are available.

        • Cora says:

          In the 1980s, I could get Starlog, Cinefantastique and Famous Monsters of Filmland in a single store in Rotterdam, where my Dad worked at the time. I still have some old Starlog issues from those days. Nowadays, the international press shop at the central station carries SFX and SciFi Now (which I stopped buying, because they cost as much as two paperback novels). I don’t think I’ve ever seen Locus in the flesh, though I have seen Asimov’s, Analog and Interzone (at Forbidden Planet, where I usually have other priorities)

          • Daniela says:

            Hm, I never checked on the internatiol newspaper stand at the central station. I have read a few issues of Interzone which were a present from a UK friend and liked them a lot.

            Hmmm, Forbidden Planet. At the top of my places-to-stop-list for London. I already have a long list of things I want to look at when I’m next in London.

            • Cora says:

              It really depends on the store, but the international press store at Bremen central station has a surprisingly good selection of foreign magazines, including niche magazines. Lots of music and pop culture mags. SFX and SciFi Now are usually in stock, ditto for Empire and Entertainment Weekly. Occasionally, they’ll have Interzone or other exotic stuff such as Italian comics. The prices are horrendous, though. Plus, for some reason the train station store does not have The New Yorker. If I want a copy of The New Yorker for any reason (such as last year’s SF issue), I have to go to the airport bookstore and buy it there.

              Forbidden Planet in London is really a must-visit. Bring a lot of money (or a credit card) and self-control (“I don’t need a talking remote-controlled Dalek. I really don’t. Just imagine if it starts talking at the airport during the security check”). I told a geeky teen from the neighbourhood that he really had to go there. He came back with lots of Harry Potter merchandise.

  6. Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

    Oh, another point, not about SFWA as such — as far as creating a new writers’ org, aren’t there enough already? The Author’s Guild or Novelists Inc. or PEN if you don’t want to be genre-specific.

    Or if you do want to limit it to the fantastic genres, you could probably take over SFWA from within easily enough, and despite what some of these twits say, SFWA does define its genre broadly — anything with fantastic or science-fictional elements counts.

    • Cora says:

      I’m aware that the SFWA is pretty broad in its acceptance of fiction with fantasy or SF elements. Nonetheless, a lot of those writers – often women – who write SF or fantasy with strong romantic elements, don’t really feel welcome.

      • Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

        There are people in SFWA who don’t welcome much of anyone. Writers of romantically-incline SF/fantasy could join anyway and attempt a coup. Catherine Asaro got elected president pretty easily. I think that would probably be just as practical as starting a new organization.

        • Cora says:

          Yeah, there are arseholes everywhere. And Catherine Asaro, though writing stuff full of girl cooties, was probably acceptable because she’s a physicist. No idea how Mary Robinette Kowal got accepted, though.

          • Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

            Because she’s too cool to reject, obviously.

            Really, most of SFWA isn’t particularly reactionary or sexist; it’s just that the ones who are, are loud about it. Also, generally the problem is finding people willing to take the office; in most elections they’re running unopposed. It’s usually only when someone actively unpleasant (like the recently-defeated presidential candidate) runs that someone more tolerable is hastily found to oppose him.

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  8. Dara says:

    I have some experience building organisations, albeit smallish ones, so have some thoughts on the idea of forming a SFWA replacement/competitor. They’re issues that people should probably know about – I’m not saying “don’t do it!” but I am saying to be aware going in of exactly what task you’re assuming:

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  10. Kaz Augustin says:

    Thanks for the mention, Cora! (Been meaning to drop by but have been hellishly busy as of late.)

    The dialogues with Lawrence Watt-Evans (have enjoyed your books, sir!), Daniela and yourself are very interesting, independent of the post. To me, SFWA has never been “leading” about anything. Remember their stance towards ebooks and digital authors? Pixel-stained something-or-others was what those authors were called. Ironic, really. If I want to keep up with the latest in publishing tech, I hit the romance blogs.

    Anyway, as Max Planck said about science (and physics in particular), but which holds true across the human spectrum, I suspect:

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”

    Hence the comment at the end of my post about chilling the wine while I await the obits.

    • Cora says:

      Oh yes, I’d almost forgotten about the pixel-stained technopeasant fiasco, though to be fair, that was two or three SFWA presidents back and widely considered an embarrassment at the time. And yes, romance and erotica writers and readers were early adopters of e-publishing at a time when most SF mags still required snail mail submissions.

      Otherwise, thanks for writing such a great article taking down a certain “gentleman writer” a peg or two.

      • Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

        It was one individual, Howard Hendrix, who had the rant about pixel-stained technopeasants — and you must admit the guy can turn a phrase, however ill-conceived. He happened to be SFWA’s vice president at the time, but his piece was entirely his own, not SFWA’s.

        I could write a rant of my own about SF writers who are technologically backward in their real lives, but this isn’t the time or place. Romance writers were indeed early adopters of ebooks, while many SF writers still want nothing to do with them — but on the other hand, several pre-Kindle attempts at developing ebooks were the doing of SF folks, such as Mind’s Eye Fiction, Alexandria Digital Literature, SoftServe Books, etc. Not all SF writers are Luddites.

        • Cora says:

          Thanks for the clarification regarding Howard Hendrix (I had blanked on his name) and the pixel-stained technopeasants rant.

          Considering how much outcry the pixel-stained technopeasant thing caused – including a “post a piece of digital fiction on your blog” initiative – it’s obvious that not all SF writers are Luddites. And there certainly were e-book pioneers among SF writers as well. As for why it was the romance where e-books eventually reached critical mass, even though the RWA was not exactly welcoming towards e-published authors either in the early days of digital publishing, it’s probably because romance readers are voracious and even more stigmatized for reading the genre of their choice than SFF readers. Plus, romance is about the only genre whose covers are even more embarassing in public than SFF’s.

    • Lawrence Watt-Evans says:


  11. Kaz Augustin says:

    “not all SF writers are Luddites”

    LOL! Well, y’know, from my own personal philosophy, I’m not completely anti-Luddite! Those people (i.e. the Luddites) had other societal considerations that tend to interfere with the standard propaganda pov, once you dig a little deeper. However, I take your point.

    This is turning into such an interesting discussion, I can’t help myself from commenting more. 🙂

    Now, I’m going to say something that’s the opposite to what MT McGuire says, so people can chime in if they disagree. I was going to say that, all things considered, if we thought that USA organisations were bad, they’re not as bad as British organisations, that tend to take that Upstanding Male viewpoint to extremis. If the thought of joining SFWA makes me sigh, the thought of being eligible for the BSFA polls is vein-slitting (and I say that as a previous member/subscriber)! There isn’t the blatant sexism, to be sure, but there is a definite elitism that sees anything associated with emotion (you know, that thing that British males are forever in tune with!) somehow verboten. Yes yes, of course I’m generalising, but discussions like this can only be done in broad strokes where personal interaction is obviated, so bear with me on this. We all know the “tea and biscuits” thing with Poms (I don’t doubt McGuire on that) but, where there isn’t the personal touch, relations aren’t so equanimous.

    PS I have to tell you L.W-E, but when “The Cyborg and the Sorcerers” hit my bookstore (I once used to own an F&SF store…happy days!), the entire staff was mesmerised. The cover was so…different. So vibrant, with all its yellows and brightness. (Needless to say, we thought the US Del Rey cover was shit, as are most US covers.) It really made an impact! Now I find you’re a f*&*^ing Yank yourself when, all this time, I thought you were a British writer. My bad. It’s as if I was told The Moody Blues came from Anchorage, Alaska! No matter, I’ll get over it. But I’m conversing with Lawrence Watt-Evans on Cora Buhlert’s blog???!!! Squeeeeee!!!!!

    PS I’m using the emphasis tags rather than the italics (i), so we’ll see how that turns out.

    • Lawrence Watt-Evans says:

      Ha! David Mattingly, who painted the U.S. cover of Cyborg, thought I was British, too — mostly just from my name. We met at the ’82 Worldcon, and he was flabbergasted to discover I was an American in my late twenties and not a Brit twice that age.

      Anyway, yes, I’m an American, born and raised in Massachusetts. Three of my four grandparents were born in England, though (specifically Yorkshire, Cheshire, and London). (My grandfather Watt was raised near Dundee and would be bitterly offended to be called English, but he was born in Yorkshire, when his parents were there on business, and not in Scotland.)

      The fourth line, the Evans family, has been here since the 17th century.

    • Cora says:

      I agree that the historical Luddites deserve better than to be reduced to “people who hate technology”. But then the historical saboteurs fared even worse.

      As for the British SFF scene, it’s been reported frequently that female SF writers have a harder time getting published in the UK than in the US, apparently because British chain bookstore buyers believe that SF by women doesn’t sell. And Waterstone’s – the only remaining British bookstore chain, unless ou count W.H. Smith – is really bad about segregating male from female SFF writers, with urban fantasy (unless written by Jim Butcher) relegated to whatever hidden corner they could find in the bookstore. I’ve also had the hardest time finding books by women on British bookstore shelves, even if said women had just won a prestigious award and were British themselves. In my experience, there is a certain degree of awareness among (male) British fans and critics of SFF that women are being marginalized in the genre and that something should be done about it, but when it comes down to it, they still prefer the same old white male POV without those pesky emotions. There is a Brit critic with whom I occasionally tangled in the past, who compared romance to a stomach bug, since it supposedly turned everything it touches into shit. These days he’s totally in favour of more diversity and inclusivity in the SFF genre as well, as long as it conforms to his personal ideal of unemotional fiction.

      You just made me look up the UK cover for The Cyborg and the Sorcerers (which I don’t recall ever seeing, but then I didn’t start reading SFF until a couple of years later and my local store would likely have had the US edition) and I agree that it’s stunning. Much better than the US cover.

      BTW, I agree that this is a great comment thread.

  12. Estara says:

    I haven’t got anything intelligent to add, except that I’m enjoying both the post and the discussion and really liked Rachel Swirsky’s nifty twist on gendered language replacing female clichés with men in their positions.

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  14. Paula Guran says:

    Thans for reminding me why I should take that entire website down.

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